Mazel tov to “Our Pope”


What a week of celebrations! Sunday, Jews rejoiced on the holiday of Purim with feasting and giving gifts. Yesterday, known as Shushan Purim in the Jewish calendar, I observed the anniversary of my acceptance to Rabbinical School while friends celebrated St. Patrick’s Day.  When I taught at the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester, this was a special day in the calendar, because Assistant Head of School Patricia Kelly (of blessed memory) would always bake kosher Irish Soda Bread for the students and faculty.

Today I turn my attention—together with Catholics around the globe—to Pope Francis, who will mark the anniversary of his Papal Inauguration tomorrow, March 19th. Not long ago, at a Rabbis Without Borders retreat, a colleague pointed out that I made reference to “our pope.” It’s true that I desire to claim Pope Francis as a spiritual mentor; the more I learn about his leadership, the more I am inspired by him.


I recently read Chris Lowney’s elegant analysis of our pope’s leadership, Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads. Having trained as a Jesuit seminarian and worked as an investment banker, Lowney possesses unique insights about Pope Francis’ passion to serve, ability to make difficult decisions and authenticity as a role model.  Introducing his overview of the pope’s fundamental approach to leadership, Lowney states of Pope Francis, “his habits are implicitly a challenge to the rest of us: to commit to live similarly, and thereby to champion a new way of leading in our culture.” (p. 9) Lowney promises to share “Lessons from the First Jesuit Pope” about successful leadership and he delivers from first chapter. Noting that Pope Francis leads by example, he writes, “The pope has not issued a single directive to his team about lifestyle and may never have to. His actions may have spoken for him. That’s leadership.” (p. 24) I found this book compelling because Lowney provides practical lessons that can be applied to rabbinic leadership, as well.

As I read the book on a rainy Sabbath afternoon, I filled my copy with sticky notes—marking the sentences that I wanted to return to and savor as I wrote this review.  But as I sat down to type, I realized that quoting from the book does a disservice to both the author and his subject. Less is more, Lowney notes, recounting a Jesuit teaching: “Qui fecit nimis, fecit nihil, loosely put, the one who tries to do too much ends up accomplishing nothing.” (p. 92) Reading this, I am reminded of the rabbinic corollary found in the Talmud: “Tafasta merubah lo tafasta,” which I translate, if you grab too much you’re left holding nothing. There is no more that I can say of Lowney’s book or Pope Francis’ leadership other than that I find both to be exceptional; I would recommend that anyone in a leadership position—from Rabbis Without Borders alumni to young adults working as counselors in summer camps—read this book as an inspirational guide.


Comments (3)

I love your blog because you are so great at pointing out the connections between different faiths. How cool that the Talmud and Jesuit teachings both echo the same fundamental truth!

I’m a big fan of the Pope, too. I”m looking forward to reading this book.

P.S. Kosher Irish soda bread! I love it.

Mrs. Kelly was the best! In one of the oldest & largest Jewish day schools in the country, children & adults wore green on St. Patrick’s Day in her honor. I wrote a tribute to her about a year and half ago, when I read that she’d died.

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